Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part fifty-nine)

Creative Commons photo of knight in armor

Marjorie Bowen
The Sword Decides!
(part fifty-nine)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Tomorrow,” he addressed them, “the twelfth month begins. A fair month for our Queen’s escape. We pray for calm waters.”

Prayers from the table did not fill his pause.

But it was Giovanna’s sputter Cabane waited for: Escape! You know very well my purpose for Marseille. Her once-loved counsellor, her present enemy, Cabane judged soundly enough. Her heart was for battle, indignation rose—

Rushed upon by a thousand considerations. To accuse the Queen of flight was to accuse her consort, who must flee at her side. She might answer (she weighed it), “If there is talk of escape, I would have Luigi stay.” She saw Matteo study his sheaf of written things, his bowed head telling of his readiness to extract loyalty, as a seamstress extracts her needle and thread, to stitch a new pattern on a new cloth.

She knew…she had come to understand…how hard her words were taken by the men surrounding her. She undercut them and they muttered to themselves; they made, like Matteo, private plans. They did not speak their minds, and when Giovanna had lost the last prop shoring her foundation, the man who would warn her of assassins, she would not know this in time.

Luigi at Marseille was superfluous. A ring, if a ring could betoken respectability, would serve…but no alchemist knew the crafting of such tokens. A husband at Giovanna’s side conveyed it: the danger of this woman is contained.

“You ail, Cabane,” Luigi said. “I will gladly throw you over the wall.”

“Of the Hungarian,” Cabane spoke to Giovanna, “this bears most on our defence: he has no navy. He is arraying his army to lay us siege, but he has not—he cannot—cut us off by sea. He will not starve us.”

“He calculates the pestilence will starve us,” Carlo said. “How can our ships go out? How can Sicily’s be let in? And Sicily is our only sworn ally.”

“The more important, then, that we achieve Marseille,” Luigi said.

Cabane looked tiredly at him and answered Carlo, “I agree that the calculation suits possibility. The pestilence may yet fight at his side, but I see no cleverness in Ludovic.”

“What changes, then?” Giovanna asked.

“The Hungarian endures the winter in his camp. When weather permits the crossing, he summons a second army. He may pressure engagement with that of Sicily, if—and I have small faith in it—her army ever marches north. He will gladly skirmish with any whose land he overruns, for the sake of claiming victory, and to expand his occupation. He will commit every brutality on the peasantry, and the peasantry will reliably blame you. Montferrat, who is clever, will find allies. Having a foot in all camps, he will make himself seneschal, send Ludovic home content that he has conquered Naples. Or some general of Ludovic’s with combat-sense, will find the weak place…”

“Do you mean in our defences?” Carlo interrupted. “The would surprise me.”

“The weak place of choicest virtue. But I predict the merest chink will open floodgates.”

“As Giovanna’s infant could predict. Cabane, are you a scholar? Did Fortune not smile like a whore on the Huns of antiquity? Name me a Roman city to emulate. No.” Carlo raised his voice for Luigi. “The Marseille fathers will give you money. The money will pay for the aid of our neighbours, who will mint an army on its receipt. Where does this army land itself?”

“Or when?” Cabane said.

“Matteo, the map.”

 

 

 

 


 

Creative Commons photo of knight in armorThe Sword Decides! (part one)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2022, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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